Saturday, 13 February 2016
Sing a Song of Sixpence
I forgot to mention my traditional birthday present to myself. In my post about the "Keats Walk", Sixpence a Pint, I mentioned the letter Keats wrote to his publisher while staying in Winchester, in which he says "there is on one side of the city a dry chalky down where the air is worth sixpence a pint". Without doubt, I would say, that dry, chalky down is Twyford Down, in those days still joined by a neck of land to St. Catherine's Hill.
So, being a sentimental sort, I bought myself a George III silver sixpence on Ebay, minted in 1818, the year before the famous walk through the water-meadows. Who knows? This very coin may have jingled in the immortal pocket. It's certainly been in and out of a few Christmas puddings and bride's shoes in the meantime, too. Maybe I should give it a wash.
This talk of poets, letters, and sixpences reminds me of an old post from 2008, which I may as well revive here. If you have ever sat a literature exam, it may amuse you. Or possibly induce a panic attack. You may turn over your papers NOW:
"When I try to put all into a phrase I say 'Man can embody truth but he cannot know it' ... The abstract is not life and everywhere draws out its contradictions. You can refute Hegel but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence."
W. B. Yeats, in his last letter, 4th January 1939.
Questions (Time: 3 hours. Use one side of the paper only):
1. In your two penn'orth, was Yeats quite the full shilling?
2. By "the Saint", does Yeats mean the popular 1960s TV drama starring Roger Moore? No? Are you sure?
3. Discuss the impact of decimalisation on The Song of Sixpence. Please show your working.
4. Can you refute Hegel?
5. Can a woman know truth but not embody it? Are men thereby always and inevitably wrong?
6. Draw a contradiction.